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BIRS ERG Annual Report 2021-2022

Black, Indigenous and Racialized Staff Employee Resource Group (BIRS ERG)
The Equity and Inclusion Office and Human Resources Services collaborated to sponsor and expand an initiative inspired by the ongoing efforts of the Race, Racism and Racialization (R3) Working Group of the President’s Advisory Committee on Building an Inclusive Community (PACBIC)

The BIRS ERG was newly formed in April 2021 with the following leadership team:

  • Chair: Sophia Holness, Senior Manager, IT
  • Vice-Chair: Faith Ogunkoya – Manager, Black Student Success
  • Vice-Chair: Sashaina Singh – Knowledge Broker and Community Partnerships Developer, Office of Community Engagement (On Leave from June 2021 – June 2022)
  • Equity and Inclusion Office (EIO) Advisor: Katelyn Knott

The BIRS ERG was established to serve as a network supporting the well-being, development and advancement of staff members who identify as Black, Indigenous and Racialized.  As identified in the ERG Terms of Reference (2021), the following are the key goals of the 2021 – 2022 leadership team:

  • To improve community and coalition-building within and across communities
  • To amplify voices in relation to issues and needs elevated for institutional attention
  • To support the development of knowledge, skills, confidence, and networks to facilitate career growth and leadership opportunities
  • To increase awareness of and ability to navigate institutional systems
  • To improve the sense of connectedness, belonging and empowerment
  • To improve understanding of and responsiveness to staff experiences
  • To engage with more race-conscious professionals and leadership development activities
  • To enhance organizational strategy alignment and innovation

In its inaugural year the intention of the leadership team was for the ERG to establish foundational connections, activities and initiatives that can be sustained and enhanced over the lifetime of the group.  To that end, the members completed an engagement survey in May 2021 to identify opportunities, initiatives, and activities for the year.

These top five areas of interest were identified:

  1. Professional Development
  2. Leadership Training
  3. Social & Networking
  4. Peer Support
  5. Increased awareness to navigate the institution

BIRS members also identified objectives and areas of focus for the ERG and these were utilized to plan, curate, and provide the list of activities and events below.  As well, to support all initiatives and activities, three additional benchmark goals were undertaken by the leadership team:

  1. Partnership Opportunities – Peruse and create partnership opportunities with the McMaster Community:
    • The leadership team engaged in a process of continued dialogue and partnerships with the following groups: Human Resources, Black Student Success Center, University Advancement, University Technology Services – EDI Committee, Student Affairs, McMaster’s Academic Advisors Network (MACADA), Registrar’s Office Social Engagement Committee, African-Caribbean Faculty Association of McMaster (ACFAM) to seek membership for the ERG and to provide member support and increase awareness of the institution.  Additional and on-going activities were undertaking to strengthen partnership opportunities with Indigenous stakeholders within the institution such as ISS and ISHS.
  2. Strengthen Membership – Increase BIRS members:
    • Purposeful activities such as email campaigns, call for members poster, department website notification and more were undertaken to garner interest and new members to the group. Membership has grown exponentially over the year with one hundred active members.
  3. Outreach – Executive Leadership:
    • The leadership team met with the President, Provost and Vice President, Operations and Finance to bring awareness to the BIRS, ERG and to gain support for planned initiatives.


Monthly Members Meetings:

The focus and aim of the monthly members meetings were to increase awareness of and our ability to navigate institutional systems and to improve understanding of and responsiveness to staff experiences.  Meetings were well-attended with participation rates up to an average of fifty members per meeting.  Initial meetings were used to establish the group through introductions of all members, identification of desired group activities and to determine cadence and type of meetings.  The following is a list of presentations from the monthly meetings:

  • October 2021 – Human Resources – Staff Resources & Benefits
  • November 2021 – Human Resource – Workplace Wellbeing
  • January 2022 – Career Journey (Speakers: Arlene Fajutrao Dosen, Director, Student Success and Kevin de Kock, Director, Enterprise Applications & Data Systems)
  • March 2022 – Navigating McMaster’s Human Rights and Dispute Resolution Policies and Procedures – (Speakers: Marla Brown, Senior Human Rights Officer and Joan Johnson, Executive Assistant to the Assistant Vice-President Equity and Inclusion Office)
  • April 2022 – Career Journey – (Speaker: Saher Fazilat, Vice President, Operations and Finance)

Virtual Hallway Chats:

To improve the sense of connectedness, belonging and empowerment of the BIRS members, biweekly virtual hallway chats were held throughout the year.  The chats were informal virtual gatherings where members were encouraged to bring their energy, lunch/snacks and drop in for a conversation.

Discussion topics ranged from light conversations about pets to institutional concerns, global social issues, and political impacts.  The chats began in October 2021 with modest attendance at the beginning to substantial participation by end of the year.  To allow different perspectives and to foster the development of our members, opportunities were provided for members to facilitate and lead the chats.

Black Leadership Academy:

Four McMaster staff members (representing student affairs, UTS and Social Sciences) participated in McKinsey & Company’s Black Leadership Academy’s Management Accelerator Program. This program is designed for high-performing, early- to mid-career managers aspiring to take the challenging leap into senior leadership. The program focuses on enhancing leadership mindsets and behaviors, setting, and leading a business strategy, problem-solving for impact, and deepening participant’s understanding of nine functional business topics.   The time commitment for each participant was 60 hours over six months (Oct 2021 – March 2022), with an average of two hours per week for digital course content and an additional two hours per month for networking.  Participants have now successfully built a broader network of peers (within McMaster and Internal) and benefited from connectivity in the Connected Leaders Academy alumni community.

The BIRS ERG will continue to promote and support annual access to this opportunity.

Professional Development Sessions:

The May 2021 members engagement survey identified professional development opportunities as the most desired interest of the members.  To support the development of knowledge, skills, confidence, and networks to facilitate career growth and leadership opportunities, two virtual half-day professional development sessions, bulleted below, with Strategisense Consulting were conducted at the beginning of 2022.  Both sessions were well- attended with positive feedback for the sessions, objectives, coordination, participation, and outcome.

  • February 2, 2022 – Influencing Without Authority – 43 participants
  • March 3, 2022 – Mastering High-Stakes Conversations – 37 participants
Attendee Representation from McMaster Faculties and Department
Athletic & Recreation Faculty of Humanities Office of the Registrar
Black Student Success Centre Faculty of Science Research Finance
Budgeting Services Faculty of Social Sciences School of Graduate Studies
DeGroote School of Business Hospitality School of Interdisciplinary Science
Department of HEI Human Resources Services Student Affairs
Education Service (FHS) Indigenous Student Services (ISS) Student Success Center
Equity and Inclusion Office MELD University Advancement
Faculty of Engineering Office of the Associate Dean (Science) University Technology Services

Black History Month (February 2022):

BIRS, ERG and the University Technology Services department EDI Committee collaborated on Black History Month to present a speaker session by technology leader and established author, Debra Christmas.  This was another successful event with attendance by individuals from various departments across campus.

Looking Ahead to our 2022/23 Year

Having established foundational activities for the group, these activities will continue and be enhanced for the 2022/2023 year.  Additional engagement and outreach will continue with the executive leaders for awareness, support, and feedback on planned initiatives. With the increased staff presence on campus, opportunities will be created for in-person social gatherings, networking, and professional development.  Efforts will be made to move forward with two additional foundational initiatives:

  • BIRS, ERG Male Sub-group – creating opportunities for networking for members who identify as male
  • Mentorship and coaching program in partnership with HR

Intentional endeavours will be made to stimulate, encourage, and sustain group membership through regular connections, interactions, and involvement in developing events and goals for the new year.

Overall, the members and the BIRS, ERG leaders are pleased with what we have been able to accomplish together and how we have defined our group and scoped its needs in our inaugural year.  We have been able to achieve a lot, despite COVID-19 challenges, to bring awareness, education, and a sense of belonging and community to all who want to be members and partner with us.  We look forward to the year ahead and what more we can accomplish for our membership and to advance our goals to continue to make a positive impact on McMaster University’s Diversity, Equity & Inclusion mandates.